Fantasy Football Sleepers: 10 Players to Target in Double-Digit Rounds of 2021 Fantasy Football Drafts
BY KEVIN HANSON (@EDSFootball)
Updated: Saturday, September 4th
Ask 100 people and you're likely to get 100 different answers.
Not only does no universal definition of a fantasy football sleeper exist, many would argue that there is no such thing as a sleeper in today's age of year-round fantasy football content published on the interwebs.
While that may be true, our definition of the term for this post will be a player that we are targeting in the double-digit rounds of 12-team leagues. Of course, our fantasy football rankings will list the players we prefer in sequence, but the goal of this post is to highlight later-round players that you should know for your upcoming drafts.
So, in other words, the fantasy football sleepers referenced in this article have an average draft position (ADP) greater than 108 (nine rounds times 12 picks).
Some players that just missed the cut based on our self-imposed ADP requirement include A.J. Dillon (ADP: 81), Laviska Shenault Jr. (ADP: 92), Michael Pittman (ADP: 99), Tyler Higbee (ADP: 106), among others.
Fantasy Football Sleepers for the 2021 NFL Season
Here are ten sleepers for the 2021 season with their Fantasy Football ADP in parenthesis (N/A = currently undrafted):
QB - Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: 120)
Look at 2020's top 10-scoring fantasy quarterbacks and you'll notice a common theme. Almost all of them are prolific runners. The average top-10 quarterback had a rushing line of 79.5/416.5/5.1.
To highlight the importance of rushing production, look no further than the G.O.A.T. (Tom Brady). Of course, Brady isn't known for his rushing prowess (six rushing yards in 2020). But in his first season in Tampa, Brady threw 40 touchdowns (second-most of his Hall-of-Fame career) and 4,633 yards (fifth-most). Even so, Brady only finished as fantasy's QB8. Winning from the pocket used to be enough -- Brady has nine seasons where he finished as a top-seven fantasy QB.
Nowadays, quarterbacks that are exclusively pocket passers need to have career-type seasons to warrant a high ranking. On the other hand, QBs with elite rushing upside can be mediocre passers (on a good day) and still be strong fantasy plays.
So, while the rookie version of Lance won't have the passing success that Brady (or Aaron Rodgers) will have in 2021, his elite rushing upside puts him squarely in the top-10 mix (or better) once he becomes a starter. Lance is more talented than Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts, as an example, and Hurts was the QB7 from Weeks 14-17 last season after the team benched Carson Wentz.
Especially considering that he was a redshirt sophomore that played only one game in 2020 at the FCS level in such an unusual year, it may be a lot to expect him to start Week 1. Lance may not start Week 1 (although I wouldn't rule it out). PFT's Mike Florio ponders a Jimmy Garoppolo release before Week 1. The 49ers have the earliest possible bye (Week 6) and that could be a natural transition point to this year's No. 3 overall pick (if he's not the starter sooner).
One of the common things I've often done in a fantasy football mock draft is pair someone like Joe Burrow, on my list of undervalued players in fantasy football, with Lance for two high-upside options.
RB - Ty'Son Williams, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: N/A)
Speaking of QBs with elite rushing skills, Lamar Jackson has rushed for 1,000-yards in back-to-back seasons and the Ravens have led the NFL in rushing in back-to-back seasons. They were second behind the Seahawks in 2018.
While Jackson could lead the team in rushing again, the season-ending ACL injury to J.K. Dobbins has created tremendous opportunity for Gus Edwards, who is now an upside RB2 play, and Williams, a viable sleeper.
Perhaps Justice Hill is more of a complement to Edwards in stylistic terms, but Williams is in the mold of what the Ravens like in their backs and he has leapfrogged Hill on the depth chart after the UDFA spent 2020 on Baltimore's practice squad. The 220-pound back carried the ball 24 times in the preseason for 130 yards (5.4 YPC) and a touchdown.
While Edwards has never been the team's lead back, he has a minimum of 139 touches in his three seasons and has been a top-50 running back all three seasons as well as a top-35 back (half-PPR) in 2020. Like Edwards before him, Williams could certainly get 8-10 touches per game as a complementary back and exceed expectations.
RB - Samaje Perine, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: N/A)
By signing with the Buccaneers, Giovani Bernard has negatively impacted the outlook for Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones by providing Brady with a much more reliable third-down option that will steal valuable passing game work from Fournette and RoJo. On the other hand, Bernard's departure increases Joe Mixon's upside (if he can stay healthy) and makes Perine a sleeper given Mixon's inability (thus far in his career) to stay healthy.
Perine, a former WFT fourth-round pick, had 63 carries for 301 yards (4.78 YPC) and three touchdowns plus 11 catches for 66 yards in 2020. Perine's change-of-pace role isn't sufficient for fantasy relevance, but Mixon has missed 23 games over four seasons with a minimum of three missed games in three of his first four seasons.
RB - Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans (ADP: 110)
Lindsay has shown that he can be a productive, really productive, back. The former UDFA began his NFL career with back-to-back seasons of over 1,000 rushing yards and 35 receptions. In his first two seasons, Lindsay finished as fantasy's RB12 and RB19, respectively, in half-PPR scoring formats.
Last year was a lost season as he was on the wrong side of timeshare split with Melvin Gordon and he missed five games. While he gets to start over in Houston, there are a few concerns with his new landing spot. Not only does Houston have a crowded backfield (five backs made the 53-man roster), but the team is widely expected to be the worst team in the NFL.
Negative game scripts could limit the upside for Lindsay or any of the team's backs, but I still project Lindsay to lead the team in rushing. The team's other primary backs -- David Johnson, Mark Ingram and Rex Burkhead -- have dealt with their share of injuries. Even without injuries to the team's other backs, I could see a scenario where Lindsay returns flex value at a discounted cost.
WR - Marquez Callaway, New Orleans Saints (ADP: 113)
The hype may get out of hand, but Callaway has continued to generate buzz throughout training camp and the preseason.
Recovering from ankle surgery, there is uncertainty with how soon Michael Thomas will be ready to make his 2021 debut. At a minimum, Thomas (PUP) will miss the first six weeks. Not only is Thomas rehabbing, but both Emmanuel Sanders (Buffalo) and Jared Cook (L.A. Chargers) are now elsewhere. In other words, the healthy options that will compete with Callaway for targets are mostly question marks with the exception of running back Alvin Kamara.
WR - Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears (ADP: 118)
A fifth-round pick out of Tulane, Mooney had a highly productive rookie campaign (61/631/4). While there weren't many big games, Mooney was more consistent than a typical rookie with multiple receptions in every game.
Going into his second season, coach Matt Nagy has talked up Mooney and made some lofty comparisons: "I've been around Tyreek Hill. I've been around a young DeSean Jackson. I'm telling you right now, this guy has the complete package and has the ability to be compared to them." Nagy went on to say that Mooney "has a rare element of speed, combined with route-running, hands and passion. And commitment."
With the Bears trading Anthony Miller to the Texans, it only further boosts Mooney's outlook for 2021.
WR - Rondale Moore, Arizona Cardinals (ADP: 182)
Injuries have limited him over the past two seasons, but Moore was uber-productive as a true freshman in 2018 (114/1258/12 receiving and 21/213/2 rushing). Although not the tallest receiver, Moore is a rocked-up, ultra-athletic weapon for whom the Cardinals will look to manufacture touches.
Clearly, DeAndre Hopkins will dominate targets, but it's not out of the question that Moore is the second-most productive receiver on the team as a rookie. The Cardinals' fast-paced offense ran the third-most plays per game (67.7) in 2020.
WR - Elijah Moore, New York Jets (ADP: 148)
Mostly aligning in the slot at Mississippi, Moore, the 34th-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, broke the school's single-season reception record (previously held by A.J. Brown) last season. While it would have made sense for the Jets to part ways with Jamison Crowder, Moore has the potential to excel both inside and out.
I think the craziest thing about Elijah Moore is every day I come here saying I’m going to focus on someone else. Then he makes that impossible #Jets— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) August 4, 2021
Like the "other" Moore listed above, Elijah may not be the biggest receiver, but he is elusive and dynamic in the open field. As he develops chemistry with Zach Wilson, the sure-handed wideout has the ability to become more productive as the season progresses.
WR - Jakobi Meyers, New England Patriots (ADP: 135)
New England's passing offense left a lot to be desired in 2020 -- third-fewest yards (180.6/G) and tied for fewest touchdowns (12). And while he played only 22 snaps through Week 6, Meyers was the lone bright spot for the passing game.
Meyers led the Patriots with 81 targets, 59 receptions and 729 yards in 2020, but he had a lone seven-yard reception in the team's first five games. From Week 7 through the end of the season, Meyers averaged 5.3/65.6 on 7.3 targets per game. Even without scoring a touchdown all season, he was fantasy's WR24 (half-PPR) from Weeks 7-17.
Increased competition for targets from a multitude of free-agent additions could scare some fantasy managers away, but the transition to Mac Jones should lead to more passing volume overall. In addition, the accuracy of those passes should improve as well. Assuming positive touchdown regression for Meyers, it wouldn't be surprising if he finished as a top-36 perfomer in 2021.
TE - Tyler Conklin, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: N/A)
Earlier this offseason, Mike Zimmer talked up Conklin when he said: "It's a bigger role for Tyler Conklin [this season]. He's kind of emerged as a guy that's moving upward, and with those two guys (Conklin and Irv Smith), we have a lot of weapons there."
Over the final quarter of last season, we got a glimpse of what Conklin could do with a more prominent role. During that four-game stretch, he had 15 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown on 21 targets.
Now that Smith is expected to miss the season following meniscus surgery, Conklin will be featured even more prominently within Minnesota's offense. The team traded for Chris Herndon as well, but Conklin is a viable sleeper that could even flirt with back-end TE1 production if everything goes right.
TE - Juwan Johnson, New Orleans Saints (ADP: N/A)
More just a name to monitor on the waiver wire outside of deep, TE-premium leagues, Johnson has made the transition from receiver to tight end and has generated some positive buzz this offseason. In terms of receiving production, it's certainly within the range of outcomes for Johnson to be more productive than his teammate and potential breakout player Adam Trautman if the Saints use Trautman more in a Josh Hill-type role.
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